Marisha Pessl. Special Topics in Calamity Physics. New York: Viking, 2006.

Blue van Meer has been moving to a new small college town every semester ever since her mom died in a car accident when she was ten years old. Her father is a handsome and charismatic professor of political science with a focus on revolutions and uprisings, and insists that traveling will add to Blue’s education (and save him from settling down with a new woman). This highly intellectual father-daughter duo let go of their wandering ways to put down roots in the fictional mountain town of Stockton, North Carolina, where Blue will spend her senior year of high school at a prestigious private school.

Early on in this coming-of-age tale, Blue is abruptly pulled into the “it” crowd at school, an elite group of smart and attractive students who receive special attention from the school’s mysterious film studies teacher, Hannah Schneider. The plot slowly unfolds as Blue and her friends wade through their strange relationships and salon-like gatherings, and eventually get caught up in a mysterious drowning that occurs at a party Hannah hosts. Blue uses the critical thinking skills and intellect reinforced so strictly by her overbearing father during the last six months of her senior year, only to discover that the mystery hits closer to home than she originally thought.

Special Topics contains cheeky in-text citations of various “great books” and other intellectual sources Blue uses to express observations and metaphors about things that happen in the book. Literary references also appear in the title of the chapters, which are all named after famous works of literature. While teen readers may be drawn to Blue’s persistence as she goes through the changes and trials of senior year, older readers may be more appreciative of the not-so-subtle nuances Pessl is now known for.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2006, Mountains, Mystery, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Pessl, Marisha

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